Letter: For 'free' trade, read 'forced'

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The Independent Online
Sir: The suggestion that ferry companies might be legally obliged to carry animals for live transport to Europe ('Ferry companies buckle under public pressure over livestock', 20 August), on the grounds that to decline this business would restrain free trade, seems odd.

As far as I can tell, 'free trade' here means 'forced trade': if existing companies consider it unethical or against their interests to transport livestock across the Channel for slaughter, they should then be forced to do so, to keep trade free. Come again? Surely the point of a free market is that trades are voluntary, not compulsory.

I have noticed before in international trade talks (notably on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and within the European Union) this interesting idea that, because trade is 'a good thing', it must be maximised via any coercion necessary. Am I the only one to whom this fore- shadows a new era of centrally planned economies - this time, with transnational trading bodies doing the planning?

If so, it will surely end in as many ethical, environmental and economic tears as the Soviet experiment. We need to take a long, hard look at this modern orthodoxy misnamed 'free trade', whilst we yet retain enough freedom to affect its development.

Yours sincerely,

GRAHAM WOODLAND

London, NW10

20 August

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